Making Your Home a Haven

This year I shall once again be taking part in Courtney's fall challenge

If you don't know who Courtney is I'd encourage you to click on the logo above which will take you directly to her site. She is a wonderful wife, mummy and daughter of the king who blogs regularly and was a featured speaker at the nines conference on Tuesday, which was fantastic. If you missed out this year, you should definitely sign up next year. It's kind of frustrating that you have to watch it live, as it's in the US, and time zones means I couldn't watch all of it without being up until well after midnight, but it's free so you can't really complain. On top of that there is an option to buy the videos that you missed and watch them later.

I was introduced to Courtney's blog about this time last year, so I took part in the fall challenge, and it was such a blessing to me and my family. Small steps to improve the atmosphere of you home can make a huge difference in encouraging a peaceful and prayerful environment. One of the first steps is to light a candle in your home everyday. Whenever it catches your eye, say a short prayer.

Such a simple, but effective idea.
I love it.

The autumn is such a great time for bringing new routines and habits into our lives. I'm never sure whether it's because I had September starts drilled into me at school (beginning of the new year) that makes me feel like the autumn is a time for renewal. As we homeschool, you'd think we were exempt from that feeling, but with Matt being a teacher we still fall into the habit of lazy summer weeks and trying to impose a new order on ourselves come the term time. The laws of entropy really do apply to all things, and without our fresh start each year we'd rapidly end up in chaos!

But I don't know if the way our school system is run does dictate the rhythm of our lives or whether there is something more spiritual to it than that.

This week we are celebrating Rosh Hashanah which is the celebration of creation. If this week truly is the anniversary of the day that God created to world, then of course it feels just ripe with new beginnings.

I'm linking up with Courtney's Women Living Well Wednesdays

Dry Roasted Peanut Butter

Today we ran out of peanut butter, and when I went to make some more (no way can my kids have breakfast tomorrow without it!) I found we didn't have any salted nuts. :o(

What we did have was dry roasted peanuts, so I used them. It's kind of an interesting flavour. I don't really like peanut butter, but I enjoyed it.

Next time, honey roast peanut butter!

If you want to know how to make peanut butter...

A place for everything...

Part three of my organise your life program is 'a place for everything and everything in it's place'.

I'm sure your mum, or maybe even your grandma used to say this, but I'm taking it to extreme levels.
So far we've been dealing with things that you don't use often and need to store/file away. My next stage is going to start dealing with things that you use on a regular basis and make sure that they are not only neat, but accessible and LABELLED. Believe me, labelling is essential. If you family members can read, they can ensure that something is put back where it came from without any prompting or nagging from you (after all, it's better to live on the roof than with a nagging wife)!

I always start in the kitchen, it's the biggest job and it's so satisfying to have that one done that it motivates me to work on other areas.
Start pulling out your cupboards and putting their contents on the kitchen table. Throw away anything out of date etc... And decant things like olive oil, flour, sugar etc... so that you only have one bottle/jar of each.

Once when we were cleaning out our pantry at my mums house we found a tin of spam which I believe was about 8 years past it's sell by date. My dad reckons spam keeps forever, so prove a point he ate it. Don't do this. If you find spam, feed it to a cat or something.

You need to plan your cupboards as you put them back, but don't forget that inside cupboard doors make excellent storage for things used regularly.
The insides of my undersink cupboard is covered in hooks labelled 'gloves', 'shoebrush', 'dustpan & brush', 'antibac wipes' etc... This means they are hung up and easy to grab without disturbing the rest of the cupboard contents. Being labelled means that even my three year old can put them back in the right place.

Spice racks can also be hung on the insides of cupboard doors around the hob. They are easily accessible, but also not in the way when you want to get to the contents of the cupboard. Your spices can now be in with your dishes whilst still maintaining order.
My spice racks were £1.09 each from ikea and worth every penny, but they are very basic and you could easily build them yourself with a little scrap wood.

I would also encourage you to look at vertical storage wherever possible. Cookie sheets, chopping boards, roasting pans, muffin trays are all very annoying when stored flat. By storing them vertically you save space and sanity. You can buy racks from Lakeland, or custom make one for your cupboard with some peg board and a few dowel rods.
However you put your food back in your cupboards, make sure there is a system that you will adhere to. The second law of thermodynamics (entropy) means that your cupboards will always become disorganised, but if you keep coming back to a system, it shouldn't take too long to sort out. I like to group tins by fruits, veg, soups, sides, and then stack doubles, always in sell by date order. You can do it how you like, but do have a plan.

If you have deep shelves and small items, grouping them in baskets (labelled) that are easy to pull out work well. I keep all my cake decorating (food dyes/flavours/sparkles) in a basket next to flour and raising agents. Easily grabbable, won't take over the cupboard.

Extra shelves can be really useful if you feel your pantry is full of wasted space. Mine were £1.99 at ikea, but you can easily make your own.
If you can, decant packets into jars that match and label them. This means they look pretty, stack better, and your kids don't become brand loyal from all the advertising they are exposed to in the home (probably most important for those of us with children on the autistic spectrum). It also means you can save money by purchasing bulk dry goods, like rice and beans, and putting what you need in the pantry, storing the rest elsewhere (cellar, shed or garage for instance). When you run out, you just take your jar and go 'shop' in your store.

Tupperware is a huge kitchen problem. Always store your Tupperware with the lids on. If you don't have enough space, you have too much Tupperware. Purge. If you separate lids from the Tupperware you will end up with a mismatched mess. I'm not sure if this is a scientific law with a special name, but I know it to be a fact.

Now that you've done the kitchen, time to do another room. Most of these tips apply elsewhere too. Hang staplers in office cupboards, have a pullout basket of accessories in your wardrobe. So go on, get organising!!

- Kj

Am I doing enough?

I'm unashamedly stealing most of this post from Jeannie Fulbright because she says it better than I could ever hope to. It's the question every homeschooling mum asks herself on a regular basis:

Am I doing enough?

As you begin to walk down this long road of educating your children, always ask yourself what God’s perfect plan is for your family. Often we can begin to feel weighed down by the burden of being our children’s source of education.

This should not be.

The same God who called you will equip you and show you the perfect way your children should go. Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were both homeschooled differently because they had different purposes and paths to pursue. Seek to know what your children’s purposes and paths are; don’t just follow the crowd, burdening yourself with elective courses that weigh you down and rob you of your joy. When you follow God’s ideal plan for your children, it won’t feel heavy or burdensome. It will feel light.

I believe the problem is that when you are doing enough it feels too easy - so you think 'I can't be doing enough. It can’t be this easy. Certainly my child is not learning enough or getting enough knowledge. I need to fill their brain with more, more, more until we are so challenged, so overloaded with information that we simply can’t fill another minute of our 'school day' with anymore'.

When we’re really doing quite enough – homeschooling is as it should be: wonderful, joyful, pleasant, and peaceful – with children learning exactly what they need to learn – with time on their hands to pursue other things, other subjects of interest – with time to contemplate what they have learned, what they want to learn, to contemplate their relationship with God – with time to draw nearer to mom, siblings, a good book, the Bible – with time to learn to cook, time to learn a new skill, to build something unplanned, unscheduled, something NOT in their books – something creative, expressing who they are.
That’s what life is like when you’re doing enough.

But you see, the question we should ask – the real question we should ask is, 'Am I doing too much?'

Am I homeschooling out of fear? Have I fallen prey to the counterfeit for God’s best and followed someone else’s plan? What can I cut out? What can I put away?

If homeschooling feels hard to you – you’re doing too much. And just like with medicine, too much is not better.

Too much will have repercussions. Too much will bring consequences you don’t really want. Too much brings burn out. Too much robs your family of the joy and relationships that were meant to develop and flourish at home.

God’s call on you to homeschool does not forestall His promise of peace. His promise to give us rest is not void. If we are not experiencing rest as we homeschool, we need to sit down and reevaluate. We need to come to Him again, and seek His ways and wisdom.

Matthew 11:28

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.

Becoming paperless

This is the second 'organisation challenge' I'm setting my friend to enhance his super powers, so for those who are following prepare for the next step in organising your life: becoming paperless.

Paperlessness (is that a word?) is a concept I was introduced to in my first year at university whilst studying business and management science. We looked at a company called 'Oticon' who manufactured hearing aids, but who aimed to keep their office a paperless environment. All memos were sent by email. All files were scanned then shredded, as was any mail that came into the office. As a beautiful testimony to their paperlessness they had a giant tube through the centre of the building where all the paper was blown around in a crystal dome style shredded glory.

I don't think you should do that. I do think you should scan and shred all documents that you are not legally required to keep (those ones can be boxed, numbered and inventoried on your computer), then store them not only on your computer, but somewhere sensible online*. Because once you have scanned your documents, here's the magic part - your PDF files become word searchable!

So now instead of trying to remember whether your car insurance is filed under 'car' or 'insurance' you can simply type in 'car' and your computer will search it our for you.

When your washing machine breaks down you simply type in 'hotpoint' (or whatever brand) and your warranty, receipt and service agreement all pop up.

When your tax credits renewal comes, you can even type in 'P.a.y.e' and set the search criteria for the dates you need, and you automatically have all the info and evidence required.

This will save you lots of time. It will also save you lots of space. Who wants a filing cabinet in their office when you could have a drinks cabinet? Joking. Sort of.

Most importantly, it's safe. if your house burnt down tomorrow, and you'd still have all those important documents stored online.

It also saves you time when applying for things. We did our mortgage application almost entirely by email. They asked for marriage certificate, passports and bank statement, and without leaving the email I was able to hit reply, attach the relevant files and press send. Easy Peasy.

This was the most time consuming bit of organising I did, and it requires a bit of discipline. Every time you receive a new document you have to scan and shred it, otherwise your paper clutter will build up again.

If it does build up again, as mine regularly does, just set aside one evening a month, put on a podcast and start scanning. It doesn't take much longer than filing and is totally worth it.

The Unclutterer has loads more information on going paperless - including what essentials you should not shred and which is the best type of scanner to buy.

Have fun getting paper free!

- Kj

*sensible places include (my favourite, but you have to pay), google docs (free but low tech) or Evernote (free within reason).
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